Let There Be Peace On Earth: Pragmatic Hints For Surviving the Holidays

2009 December 21

I’ve already tackled general stress-busting tips a couple of weeks ago, but as we all know, the holidays are a whole ‘nother ballgame and I’ve decided that they really do require their own set of ground rules. And given that I’ll soon be on a plane to spend this festive season with my own family (who are wonderful folks), there’s no time like the present*.

So forget all those cloying tips about relaxing in front of the fireplace with cinnamon-flecked hot cider or taking time to walk around the neighborhood admiring the blow-up Santas and blinking lights, my advice is aimed squarely at those of us who don’t live in a Norman Rockwell painting.


Photo by Brandon Cirillo

Be realistic about your expectations. Think about past holidays. Think about the people you’ll be spending time with and your relationships with them and their relationships with each other. Use this information to shape your expectations for this year. Do your father and uncle always get in a drunken shoving match over whose job it is to move all the cars in the driveway so that someone can make a last-minute run to the 7-Eleven for paper towels and more club soda? Think about parking on the street this time, because things are probably going to play out the same way in 2009. Forget that Christmas Carol BS. People rarely change. And expecting your dysfunctional clan to suddenly shape up and become model celebrants might be funny when we’re taking about a Chevy Chase movie, but it’s just a path to frustration and disappointment for the rest of us.

Pick your battles. While you can manage your own expectations, you can’t control the rose-colored holiday visions dancing through others’ heads, nor can you control their behavior. It’s up to you to decide what requests to indulge (attending midnight Mass with your grandma even though you’ve been an atheist since you were eight) and which antics to ignore (your sister’s boyfriend’s attempt to goad you into an argument about Glen Beck). As a general rule, with spirits and/or tempers running high, the holidays are not the time to get up on your soap box to issue sweeping moral proclamations, initiate heated debate about political hot button issues or call people out on their shortcomings. Fight the temptation to do so (short-term repression is your friend!).  Keep your head down, your nose clean and save the substantive stuff for after Jan 1.

Ditch the guilt. Yes, we’re all supposed to feel grateful that we’re surrounded by bourgeois abundance that others with less privilege could only dream of, but does feeling guilty on top of feeling stressed and strung out really do any good? No, no it doesn’t. You’re not a bad person for not having holiday spirit, or for feeling smothered by your extended family or irritated by their quirks. You’re not a jerk if you lack joviality. It is what it is. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is the holidays make you feel. There’s no right or wrong answer. Just be mindful (as you would at any other time of the year) of not throwing cold water on anyone else’s good mood and that’s all you need to ask of yourself.

*’tis the season for bad puns

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